Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Examining Biofuels Policy

Chemical & Engineering News
August 15, 2011 Volume 89, Number 33 pp. 10 - 15
Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay

Government mandates have shaped the market but not always for the best

By 2050, the global population will hit between 7.5 billion and 10.5 billion. Energy demands will soar, and traditional energy supplies, such as petroleum, will struggle to meet the demands. Biofuels will be essential “for future fuel solutions that are affordable, available, and clean,” says Arthur Reijnhart, general manager of alternative energies and fuels development strategy at Shell.

Belief in the ability of biofuels to solve our transportation energy needs goes as far back as 1925 when automobile pioneer Henry Ford said in an interview with Christian Science Monitor: “The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumac out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust—almost anything.”

Over the past decade, more than 50 countries, including the U.S., have been scurrying to implement policies to integrate biofuels into the transportation infrastructure in the face of a number of pressing needs—national energy security, a sustainable agricultural sector, job creation in the rural economy, and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to curtail climate change. Producing fuel crops that would meet a country’s domestic fuel needs, revitalize rural economies, and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions appeared to be a one-size-fits-all solution.

With experience and hindsight, experts are taking a more measured view of biofuels and their promise to be affordable, available, and clean. Among the factors under scrutiny are raw materials, environmental impact, social cost, and infrastructure implementation.

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